SALT LAKE CITY — Restricting access to the media and general public when it comes to statements made by police or other public employees was discussed in the Utah Legislature on Friday.
House bill 399 sponsor Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden) said keeping information private and protected from public scrutiny or from possible prosecution is something that is protected under the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment.
"How likely is an employee to open up to you about a difficult issue, perhaps one in which they’ve made a significant mistake if after the interview, the content of that crucial conversation is going to be used to sell newspapers," asked Wilcox.
Journalist Sheryl Worsley, who represents the Radio Television Digital News Association throughout the Rocky Mountain region said law enforcement across the country and here in Utah are seeing a lack of trust from the public.
"The answer to a lack of trust is more transparency, not less," said Worsley. "The public will not accept what cannot be verified.
"There is an accountability need."
Cameron Diehl from the Utah League of Cities and Towns said the bill wouldn’t restrict media from gaining access to police reports and other investigations, but would simply protect officers.
"The bill will have minimal impact on transparency around those events, because information is available through a variety of other means," Diehl said.
Tiffany James, the mother of Zane James, a 19-year-old shot and killed by Cottonwood Heights police in 2018, and whose case was just reopened, testified on Capitol Hill.
"It took almost 3 years and $300,000 for us to get access to his Garrity statement and the true facts of the case," said James. "Please, there is not public benefit to less transparency."
The bill passed unanimously by the committee, with Wilcox saying it’s restricted access in the interest of the greater good.
"If people are not afraid of being attacked, and are assured of safety, they are most likely to cooperate and share their concerns openly,"
If passed by the full House and Senate, Gov. Spencer Cox has said his office would review it before signing the bill into law, having said in the past that more transparency is needed in government.